On Aug. 28, Egypt reached an important milestone in its war against radical Islamic terrorism. After an intense seven-year search, Egyptian security forces arrested Mahmoud Ezzat, the acting leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the head of its military wing, responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in Egypt.
In 2013, following the arrest and imprisonment of Mohamed Badie, a previous Muslim Brotherhood leader, Ezzat took over the movement. Ezzat was convicted in absentia on terrorism-related charges and twice sentenced to death and three times to life sentences.
According to Egypt’s interior ministry, he was captured in eastern Cairo, in a residential apartment that he used as a hideout. The authorities said they found in the apartment documents, computers and telephones with encryption software used by Ezzat to communicate with Brotherhood members in Egypt and abroad. Ezzat ran the Muslim Brotherhood movement throughout Egypt from this apartment and established contacts with the leaders of the movement, who fled Egypt to Qatar and Turkey after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power.
In recent years, in an attempt to mislead Egyptian security officials, the Muslim Brotherhood spread fake news that the movement’s leader had fled to the Gaza Strip or Turkey.
Ezzat is considered to be the most dangerous figure in the Muslim Brotherhood movement after the leader of the military wing, Muhammad Kemal, was killed four years ago by Egyptian security forces. Ezzat is in charge of secret terrorist activity. He was born in 1944 and is one of the loyal disciples of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic ideologue Sayyid al-Qutb. Ezzat’s nickname in Egypt was “Mr. X” or “The Black Box” of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recent years, he was responsible for a series of attacks on senior members of the Egyptian law enforcement, who were acting under President al-Sisi’s directives against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ezzat was accused of assassinating former Attorney General Hisham Barakat in 2015. Authorities also charged him with the deaths of Brig.-Gen. Wael Tahoun and Maj.-Gen. Adel Rajai.
Liaison with Qatar and Turkey
Ezzat was the primary source of funds for the Muslim Brotherhood. He served as the liaison with the global Muslim Brotherhood and the leaders of the movement, who fled to Qatar and Turkey and received political asylum.
Among other things, he set up an “electronic army” that distributed fake news on social media all over the world against al-Sisi’s regime.
Implications of Ezzat’s arrest
Ezzat’s arrest is an important operational, intelligence and morale-boosting achievement for the Egyptian authorities in their war against radical Islamic terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement in Egypt, was outlawed by al-Sisi, who severely punished its leaders and declared it as a terrorist movement.
By arresting Ezzat, Egypt sent a message to the citizens of Egypt that no terrorist has immunity and that its long arm will seek out any terrorist leader.
Security officials in Egypt estimate that Ezzat’s interrogation, as well as materials seized in his hideout apartment, will provide invaluable intelligence. This will help to thwart planned terrorist attacks and provide information on the Muslim Brotherhood’s network in and outside of Egypt, exposing the movement’s military operatives and its funding.
It is estimated that in the upcoming days, after Ezzat’s interrogation and analysis of the priceless material captured in his hideout, Egypt’s security forces will launch a wide-ranging wave of arrests.
Mahmoud Ezzat’s arrest is expected to create confusion and embarrassment among Muslim Brotherhood activists in Egypt. This is a severe, albeit temporary blow to the movement, which has already proven its ability to quickly recover from arrests of its senior members and to fill the ranks with new leadership. The Egyptian government is also concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood will attempt to carry out attacks in the near future to show that Ezzat’s arrest did not significantly impair the movement’s power.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.